Samantha Crain: A Complicated Life, 'Understood' The singer-songwriter and Oklahoma native quit school to hit the road and live on coffee and peanut-butter crackers. But her unique voice has carried her a long way, even if making music for her is both a painful and joyful experience.
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Samantha Crain: A Complicated Life, 'Understood'

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Samantha Crain: A Complicated Life, 'Understood'

Samantha Crain: A Complicated Life, 'Understood'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The State of Oklahoma has provided us with some great musicians, from he Flaming Lips to Woody Guthrie. Some people, by the way, would reverse that order. Oklahoma is also home base and launching pad for Samantha Crain.


SAMANTHA CRAIN: (Singing) Bring all paralyzed things to my side. Let me see, let me see. Their bodies collide underneath, underneath the light...

SIMON: Samantha Crain was one of "Spin" magazine's must-see artists at this year's Bonnaroo Music Festival. She's garnered five Native American Music Award nominations, including best record and best songwriter.


CRAIN: (Singing) And I swear, all the eye saw the white is haunting me. I'm always...

SIMON: That's the song "Lions" from her first solo album, "You Understood." Samantha Crain joins us now from the studios of KWMU in St. Louis.

Thanks so much for being with us.

CRAIN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You know, we often ask musicians when they started playing. And they usually begin with the story when they were three, four or five years old. I gather that's not your story.

CRAIN: No, it's not at all. I did get a guitar when I was younger, but I had no interest in it. I didn't have time. I was playing sports. When I went to college, I think I was just kind of looking for something to do, you know, someplace to belong. I felt kind of out of the loop in things. I wasn't playing sports anymore and I was sitting in Shawnee, Oklahoma and I wanted a way out.

I was like: this seems like it gives me a reason to leave.

SIMON: Boy, I hope we don't have a station in Shawnee where they're listening to this. But...


CRAIN: I love Shawnee. I know, it's one of those things where I still live there and I still go back anytime I can, but I needed to get out.

SIMON: Now, I've read that each song on this new album is about a specific relationship you've had with somebody.

CRAIN: Yeah, and not necessarily a close relationship. Sometimes just a single meeting, kind of a snapshot of different experiences I've had with people over the past year.

SIMON: Well, can we listen to one relationship?



SIMON: Hope I get this pronunciation correct: "Wichitalright."

CRAIN: "Wichitalright," yup.


CRAIN: (Singing) Suddenly last night, I couldn't find you. You ran beneath a plume of smoke. And all your sisters, they ran after you...

SIMON: Your music has been called Freak Folk. What do you think about that and what is it?

CRAIN: I kind of know the bands that get lumped in with Freak Folk, and I don't know if I'm exactly part of that. I think the only reason that I might get that genre stuck to me is my voice, which might be a little odd. I am not really looking for, you know, weird instruments or that weird of sounds.


CRAIN: (Singing) And it's your thickened skin, the skin you walk around with. Just don't get cold...

(Speaking) I think it's just the voice. Every once in a while, my voice might do a little weird thing, and they lump that in with something freaky, which I think that's kind of a strange thing to be focusing on, I guess.

SIMON: Well, your voice sometimes does a very expressive thing.

CRAIN: Yeah, so I don't think that that's freaky. I think that that's like soul music or something.

SIMON: May I ask, is it Choctaw soul music?


CRAIN: I don't know. I've never heard Choctaw soul music. I...

SIMON: Well, so there goes my question as to what influence...


CRAIN: It's kind of a weird thing. I didn't grow up listening to Native music at all. So I'm, you know, just discovering that as I get older. And so I don't think that influence is there. I would say the influence is more in Neil Young or something - somebody who was very expressive and emotional with their voice.

SIMON: Now, you left school, I gather.

CRAIN: Yes. Yeah, I like to say that I quit school. I don't like to day I dropped out.


SIMON: All right. Well...

CRAIN: I quit for the purpose of doing something else.

SIMON: Now, I'm just guessing that your parents didn't say, hey, great news, our daughter is quitting school so she could become a Freak Folk musician.

CRAIN: Right. It was very gradual process of acceptance, I think, for my family. I don't think they really understood what I was doing - just like I didn't understand what I was doing. I was kind of just trying something.

SIMON: What were you doing?

CRAIN: Well, I hopped in a 12-passenger Chevy van with a band out of Chicago called Berry and drove around the country. Played at coffee shops, played in living rooms, bars, sometimes we played a real show at a venue...


CRAIN: Had enough money for a pack of peanut-butter crackers and a cup of coffee and lived like that for a while.

SIMON: Now, that'll sound fun 20 years later from now. What was it like at the time?

CRAIN: After a while, I got tired and I wanted to go home and sleep. But...


CRAIN: ...I think at the time it was exactly what I wanted to do. It was exactly what I needed.

SIMON: Let's listen to another one of your songs, if we could. Let's make this one "Equinox."


CRAIN: (Singing) There was equal dark and equal light in your eyes. The same parts of insane parts bright. That how it goes. And if it feels like the night shows contradictions, call it (unintelligible) call it (unintelligible) and look straight up at the sun...

SIMON: You've said in some interviews in the past that - you described your music as complicated. You say: I hate it and I love it so much.

CRAIN: I went through a time where I just didn't know if the world really needed another musician. I just felt like all of the music that needed to be made, all the songs we needed as a human race had already been created. And I thought that it would be selfish for me to be making music and taking up people's time and energy.

And then there's also the fact that I don't have many other marketable skills to support myself.


CRAIN: But yeah, it causes me such pain, I think, in my life sometimes, but it causes me such joy too.


CRAIN: (Singing) I'm just trying to keep it moving. Take it forward. Bring it back. I'm just trying to keep it moving, oh, oh. I'm just trying to keep it moving. Take it forward. Bring it back. I'm just trying to keep it moving, oh, oh.

SIMON: Ms. Crain, so nice to talk to you. Thanks so much.

CRAIN: Thank you.

SIMON: Samantha Crain joined us from KWMU in St. Louis. Her album, "You Understood," is out now. And you can hear two songs from Samantha Crain's new album at

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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